The phrase African literature in this context means literature about Africa written by Africans. This difinition includes Chinue Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and excludes Joyce Cary’s Mr. Johnson. Secondary, the phrase “Oral Tradition” refers to those aspects of human knowledge, cultural practices and activities about Africans which have been handed down and are still being handed down from one generation to another orally.
Here I’m interested in the part of oral tradition connected with literature. Oral literature in Africa is as old as the existence of man. Indead some critics consider it as the authentic literature of Africa because it’s rendered in original version in vernacular languages. Various forms of oral literature whether sung, spoken or acted are usually stripped of their other emblishments like gestures, eye-movements, and rhythms as well as the artist’s special ways of rendering a piece. In spite of the fallibility of human memory various forms of Africa’s oral literature have survived side by side with the written repertoire and are today still entrenched in our rural communities.
No discussion of the beginning nf written African literature can be complete without reference to its oral antecedents. The blooming tree today has its roots in oral forms. The oral forms can be put into a category that sung, spoken and acted.
Each version formed the foundation stone of different genres of modern African literature namely poetry, prose and drama. Let’s look at the various of genres of literature briefly.
Oral literature is a free literature because it belongs to the community and has no specific authors. This characteristic makes it common property for use by our African authors. Consequently, we find various aspects of oral literature used by African writers, without acknowledgment. Chinua Achebe, for instance, has used proverbs profusely in his novels and short. He has a total of 129 proverbs in Arrow of God alone!